Influencers are the ultimate fans. They understand products often better than company representatives, and they accrue audiences based on the legitimacy and quality of the their advice, understanding and willingness to engage with like minds. And precisely because they are product users – rather than salesmen – they know the weaknesses, strengths and opportunities for product development.
In real terms, influencers are experts. They dedicate unpaid hours to research and sharing of news around a product or abrand, and they often have ideas about how to improve the experience of products – from manufacturing and delivery, to interaction design.
All these characteristics of influencers make them superb sources for learning about how to do business more effectively. More effective than traditional market research, influencer engagement represents the most cost effective means of accessing external research on products and brands.
Of course, thinking of influencers as mere research sources is also dangerous. Once a social strategy involving an influencer is established it’s essential to foster the relationship so that the influencer maintains his/her expertise, independence and authority. And they need to be valued for what they contribute to the firm.
So how do you go about facilitating learning from influencers?
The first stage in influencer engagement should be an exploration of how the influencer can share their expertise. While aninfluencer may be prolific in social media, they may not be as concise nor as comfortable communicating in alternative formats – say, for instance, on video or in live presentations. Or even if they claim to be comfortable, influencers may not have the natural skills in presenting either to the world or to business representatives in a credible manner. So it becomes the social facilitator’s role to establish the mechanisms that best suit influencers’ communication of expertise.
Once the range of communication styles has been established, social facilitators need to collate the knowledge of influencers, and distribute in a manner that suits the operational structure of a brand. A social facilitator needs to ensure that influencer expertiseabout vertical integration needs to go to manufacturing, logistics and/or distribution, while expertise about product experiences should go to product development and interaction design. They need to act as an arbiter, amediator who articulates and converts the value of influencer advice and understanding to the firm.
Sometimes this information and expertise needs structure, and sometimes it needs to break existing structures. Social facilitators should be prepared to break as much as they curate when it comes to influencer expertise. Only when processes and practices are challenged will any learning truly happen.
And finally, when learning from influencers is facilitated, it needs to be tested. It isn’t enough just to measure activity, either. Ideas that come from influencers should be able to be adapted beyond the scope of their advice. Testing such applied learning is best measured by changes in philosophy, and further influencer engagement. It’s a matter of making a business truly social, rather than separating business practice from audience interaction.
Influencers are not just another channel for selling ideas, campaigns and widgets. They are a catalyst for transforming business. And as the real impact of influencers begins to be freely acknowledged, it’s the social facilitators’ challenge to ensure that such transformation is for the better, and not merely decorative.
This week I discovered a handy graphic from author Geoff Livingston that tracks the history of ‘influencer theory’.
The idea of the influencer – that well-connected, vocal and trusted trend-setter who spreads advocacy and sales through his or her online network – has been hugely important in the development of social campaigns. However, it far precedes Gladwell’s 2000 ‘Tipping Point‘.
Back in the late nineteenth century the theory about how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures – a field dubbed diffusion of innovations – was already being developed by the likes of French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, US sociologist H. Earl Pemberton and German and Austrian anthropologists such as Friedrich Ratzel and Leo Frobenius. And in his 1962 ‘Diffusion of Innovations’, Everett Rogers went on to explain how the adoption of innovations could be harnessed by individuals and organisations.
My point? The influencer was not a concept created by social media. Marketers have somewhat embraced influencers as ‘the answer’ to social traction online, but in fact, few influencer campaigns actually generate big results. The ones that do – for example, our Tron Legacy/Nokia N8 campaign for Nokia as described in this month’s Marketing Week Digital Strategy supplement – carefully target influencers but also plan for much bigger, messier and more inclusive participation beyond the same old ‘opinion leaders.’
So I would suggest that we keep four things in mind when thinking about ‘influencers’:
Influencers don’t just live on the web. Don’t forget that you can reach online influencers through offline means (often much more emotionally effective), but also that some hugely powerful community leaders don’t care a fig about Facebook. How are you going to reach the most trusted mum at the school gates, as well as the tech king with 20,000 followers?
To get big results you need to focus on the influenced as much as the influencers. How can you create something adaptable and customisable so that each person can make it their own and maintain the spreading momentum? How can you make it easy for the lazy or the non-content creators to be touched?
Every one of your customers and potential customers deserves a great experience, not just those who have a high Klout score. Do not focus on making just the obvious, identifiable influencers happy – everyone has influence in their own way.
Stop thinking about influencers. Start thinking about people.
A couple of recent articles have posed a timely challenge to the concept of what sort of person is most important to a brand in spreading word of mouth. The three most likely qualities you will hear cited for ‘influencers’ is that they must be 1) highly active content creators 2) well connected with big, strong networks and 3) already interested in and advocating your brand. Of course, this makes a lot of sense, but there’s also evidence to show that companies might be neglecting other equally, or more, important behavioural types.
Over on Social Media Today, Francois Gossieaux has highlighted a couple of whitepapers (here and here) by Yale academics David Godes and Dina Mayzlin, which found that the impact of WOM on sales was greater when it came from non-loyal customers than loyal ones. When you think about it, it makes sense – while loyal advocates’ networks may have got used to their recommendations, a new or uncharacteristic nod from a previously uninterested or derogatory person can hold a lot of impact.
Seem sensible? Remind yourself of the importance business giant Peter Drucker put on non-customers, and consider the three ‘tiers’ these untapped conversationalists fall into courtesy of Blue Ocean Strategy below.
Morevoer, the studies also found that among those non-loyal conversationalists, it was less likely to be the opinion leaders talking about a new product – more the regular members of the ‘herd.’ That brings us on neatly to Mark Earls, author of Herd: the hidden truth about who we are, who recently remarked:
‘It’s not that what people say to each other isn’t important in shaping our behaviour. Nor, indeed that recommendation (or advocacy or whatever you call it) in particular, is completely irrelevant. It’s just that the really important mechanism lies in what other people see, hear and feel going on around them: it’s in the eyes and ears of the advocate’s peers and not in the words of the advocate or recommendor. It’s at the “influenced” end of the telescope and not the “influencer”.’
Here at 1000heads we emphasise the importance of achieving breadth and depth, as well as reaching out to untouched frontier audiences, in our work for every one of our clients. So if you’re spending all your time focusing on the same old ‘influencers’, take a moment to think about everyone else, and how you can connect with them – past customers, detractors, prospects, people from very different passion groups, and the thousands of us who prefer to follow rather than lead.
So 22 days of cricket later and the Ashes are regained by England to the delight of many on the rainy side of the pond. One of the most vocal and passionate of England’s supporters was Lilly Allen who has a genuine passion for the game. Via Twitter she’s been able to voice this serially to her existing fan base, many of whom would not have tuned in otherwise. What’s also interesting is that the old stalwarts of cricketing journalism (@aggerscricket, @bumblecricket) have jumped on her enthusiasm and shared and commented on it with their existing followers. And so The Twitter Ashes was born.
There’s an interesting lesson for brands in here. It illustrates the power of Social Media and WOM in the way it connects people through shared passions. Now Lilly and her followers know the ‘cricketscape’ a little better and the reverse is true. Both spheres of influence increase. Her passion became a bridge. It will be interesting to see whether all this sustains itself but it’s clear how important a connector can be.
So, who are the passion connectors for your brand? Who can take you into new conversations?
If you are thinking about your conversational landscape then drop us a line should you want to begin explore it in detail. You won’t know *who* your fans are or *where* they are until you do…
Most word of mouth campaigns target ‘influencers’ whose authoritative and popular social media presences can provide instant conversational dynamite. However, the flaws in current methods of measuring influence have become something of a hot topic as our social media lives become ever more granular and amorphous – and we also like to overturn assumptions of how WOM projects should be run.
So we’re currently turning things on their head for STA Travel, by engaging with their existing offline evangelists and helping them to bring their enthusiasm and opinions online. For the Earn Your Stripes project, also sponsored by Tiger Airlines, Tourism Victoria and Tourism Western Australia, we’ve found three bright sparks already travelling in Australia with STA and offered them the opportunity to experience 3 unique work placements across 6 weeks - in the Bright Brewery, the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Margaret River Caveworks Eco Centre - after which they earn 10 days of pure pleasure, adventure and exploration.
The travellers are documenting every move online, uploading all sorts of content across social media platforms including WordPress, Blogger, Twitter, YouTube, FriendFeed, Flickr, Picasa and Last FM, with a view to sharing their experiences with others considering working or playing in western Australia. Although they were all pretty internet savvy, none of them had strong social media presences before, so part of the adventure involves them experimenting with tools and embracing the challenge of becoming outspoken online. Our own Colin jetted off to join them for some social media workshops, and is setting them a series of ongoing challenges such as the Bush Tucker Trial. We’re also helping them hook up with Twitter members in the regions where they’re working for extra advice and support, and arranging a meet-up with local bloggers who can show them insider gems such as the best of the Melbourne music scene.
All their content is unmoderated, independent and honest – and it’s helping them really become part of the fantastically supportive, eclectic and yes, ‘influential’ social media travel community. They’ve even had a taste of media stardom with radio and TV interviews. For updates check out our STA travelbuzz Twitter feed or go straight to the content from Romy, Martin and Isla.
Here’s a new whitepaper from Satmetrix looking at the actual monetary value of ‘promoters’ and ‘detractors’ in the wireless telecomms industry. Their methodology used the value of buying power, customer tenure and referrals to conclude that each Promoter was worth c.$1,700 and .5 of a new customer to a brand, while each Detractor cost them $300.
As we’ve recently discussed here and here, there are subtleties around the ‘value’ of WOM that their definitions don’t take into account. And of course the really exciting figures emerge when you transform these ‘organic’ promoters into true evangelists by engaging with them in a long-term way, tapping into experiences and passions that have huge resonace for their offline and social media lives. They get even cooler when you respect the opinionated power of those organic detractors and get them involved in the conversation too.
But it’s an interesting glimpse of the pre-engagement landscape, and Satmetrix VP Dr Laura Brooks reiterates that “a company’s ability to take action to increase Promoters and reduce Detractors has a significant impact on financial performance”.
In other words, there’s a blinding opportunity out there.